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Ecuador expels 20 US military staff over espionage fears

 
 
 
 
 
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Ecuador has ordered 20 US military staff working at the US Embassy in Quito to leave the country by the end of the month.

US embassy spokesman Jeffrey Weinshenker said on Thursday that the group was ordered to halt work on April 7, The Associated Press reported.

Officials in Washington say the 20 people have not yet left the South American country. They say the expulsion does not affect the embassy’s military attaché.

In January, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa publicly complained that the US had too many military officers in the country.

At that time, he said he planned to order some to leave. Many observers say that the action was taken over concerns about US espionage.

Relations between the US and Ecuador have been strained in recent years, even before Correa granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in June 2012 in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Assange gained international prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables, which embarrassed the US government. The website has also published hundreds of thousands of classified US documents relating to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ecuador had previously forced out several US diplomats including then-ambassador Heather Hodges in 2011.

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